An Occupational Perspective on New Zealand Working Mothers’ Stress, Anxiety and Depression: an Interpretive Description Study
Globally depression affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population and is one of the leading causes of disability and morbidity (World Health Organisation [WHO], 2017a). Worldwide women are twice more likely than men to have depression in their lifetime (WHO, 2017a); with stressed working mothers significantly more vulnerable. An occupational perspective can add new understandings on how working mothers respond and deal with stress, anxiety and depression. This interpretive descriptive study aimed to uncover an occupational perspective on working mothers’ mental health to inform the development of a new kind of practice aligned to prevention focused primary health interventions. The study sought to firstly understand how an occupational perspective explains working mothers’ stress, anxiety and depression; and secondly, what the participants considered to be current and future solutions to managing the complexity of their lives.
Following ethics approval, participants were recruited via a purposive sampling method. Data were collected from nine working mothers of children under five years via individual interviews and a focus group. Transcribed data were analysed using thematic analysis.
The findings suggest that multiple, complex and interplaying personal and environmental challenges increased working mothers’ stress, anxiety and depression. The data revealed that the struggle to find the right balance, the struggle with others’ expectations and the struggle with ongoing and/or multiple events were key factors that contributed to stress, anxiety and depression. Mirroring these challenges were equally complex strategies and supports working mothers’ found useful and needed. These strategies included prioritising/reprioritising, getting help/support from others, supportive activities and wishes for the future.
The study identified that working mothers do not have access to enough relevant supports to address their complex and dynamic challenges and needs. Several new potential strategies were identified within health (including occupational therapy), social and community sectors. These strategies have the potential to more comprehensively address New Zealand working mothers’ issues and subsequently contribute to the prevention/promotion of mental health for this population. However, in order to see the culmination of these changes, a broader political, social and health sector reorientation to address gender inequality is needed.